Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Hollies' Greatest" by The Hollies (August, 1968 - UK only)

Dad's Take:

Few groups in the mid-sixties had the kind of success The Hollies had. This album collects their best-loved songs in one package. Although I still think greatest hits packages are kind of cheating in classic album lists, this is a fantastic record.

As you'd expect, it's loaded with the Hollies' peppy pop rock hits. It's hard not to like a record that contains songs like "I Can't Let Go," "Bus Stop," "Look Through Any Window," "Stop Stop Stop," "Jennifer Eccles, and my personal favorites, "On A Carousel" and "Carrie Anne." It's no wonder this album spent seven weeks atop the British charts. (Remember, the list we're using for these reviews is in a book published in Britain.) There are also several songs that are less familiar, at least on this side of the pond, like the catchy, Beatlesque "We're Through" and "Here I Go Again," songs that were big in Britain before the group's US chart success began in 1966.

I really don't have much more to say about this. It didn't break new ground. It didn't change the face of popular music. It's a greatest hits album, full of the group's grooviest pop hits, mostly songs I know very well and have loved for many years. I'm looking forward to Brad's review. I suspect many of these songs will be new to him, and that he's going to dig this. I'm just going to kick back and sing along. You don't want to share in that experience, believe me, so I'll just end my review here.

Brad's Take:

Normally, when writing a review on here, I listen to the album all the way through without ever skipping songs or going back to other songs or anything like that. But half way through the first track, "I Can't Let Go," I knew that I was going to have to listen to that song at least two more times before continuing on with the rest of The Hollies hits. That song just totally hit me hard and made me grin like when a burrito is sitting in front of me. The back and forth vocals reminds me of a lot of the more current bands that I love. Just listen to this song if you're wishy-washy about listening to the band. You'll want to hear more. Guaranteed.

Like my dad said though, The Hollies didn't really bring anything new to the table. They just did the whole pop music thing really well. Even their cover of "Stay" by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs is great. For being so poppy, The Hollies never sound or feel too gimmicky, like The Monkees did at times.

There are things I love in every single song on this collection. Some songs have more awesomeness than others though, but there isn't a bad song on here. The mega-poppy vocal melodies and harmonies really carry each of their songs.

Dad, I'm kind of mad at you. Maybe you played them around the house or in the car here and there, but you should have engraved this band into my head, like you did with The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and Dr. Demento. This stuff ruuuules! Now I need to collect all things Hollies.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake" by The Small Faces (June, 1968)

Dad's Take:

This unexpected concept album from psychedelic tinged pop band The Small Faces (best known, maybe, for their hit "Itchycoo Park") was a smash in Great Britain, and went pretty much unnoticed in the U.S. It also led to the end of the band, nearly all of whom went on to stardom in other bands like The Faces and Humble Pie.

That the record only hit #159 in the U.S. after going to #1 in the U.K. is a shame, but the US market demands a strong single and this album doesn't have an obvious hit. Still, it really is a fun, interesting, and weird record, especially the story on side two about a boy named Happiness Stan who wants to find the missing half of the moon.

It should be no surprise that the entire band continued to succeed in rock and roll after The Small Faces broke up. The playing on the album is excellent. It has a heavier sound than people might have expected from them, showing that they had some serious rock chops.

The title instrumental that opens the record is interesting, but the album really takes off with the second track, "Afterglow." Although it has many of the hallmarks of the 1968 psychedelic scene, the song still manages to sound somewhat contemporary today. Next up is "Long Agos and Worlds Apart," another good song, although I kind of wish the vocals weren't mixed down so low. Musically, the song shines, like the rest of the album. The cockney feel of "Rene" and the fun "Lazy Sunday" make them stand out as enjoyable tracks.

It's Side Two, though, where the album becomes really interesting. Narrated by British comedian Stanley Unwin in his characteristic Unwinese gobbledygook. The result is some serious weirdness wrapped around cool, complex music and a fun, twisted little musical fairy tale. The weirdness pays off because the songs are good. They are unusual, but not to the point of being hard to listen to. In fact, I really enjoy them. "Mad John" stands out for me, but I enjoy the whole story.

I suppose I can understand why this one never took off in the US. Between the lack of an obvious hit and the difficult-to-comprehend narration, it's not particularly easy on American ears. But I like it. The music is fun, and the silly psychedelia of Happiness Stan's story appeals to me. I understand why this album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Whether you love it or not, you really do need to listen to it at least once.

Note: Our version comes with a bonus live version of the hit "Tin Soldier," which works well as a rocking finale for the record.

Brad's Take:

I had no idea who The Small Faces were before going into this. I figured it was probably because they weren't an American band, and I was right.

Musically, I really liked quite a few of the songs on this album. If you have read some of our past reviews, you'll know that I'm not too big into 60s psychedelic music. This record has enough variety though to keep me interested though. It has the experimental psychedelic stuff that doesn't really do anything for me, but it also has some great rock songs that I can totally get behind. "Song of a Baker" was an awesome jam and was probably my favorite song on the album. I also loved the bouncy little tune "Lazy Sunday." The scat-like vocals on that song crack me up because they're so silly and fun.

The mixing of the audio on this is really weird and distracting at times. Sometimes things sound really quiet, but then get really loud out of nowhere. And sometimes instruments pan back and forth at random times. It's easy to let it slide though because this was the sixties and things weren't perfect back then as it was all done manually, without the help of computers and everything, which actually makes these albums more interesting to me.

At it's core, this is a concept album. One that has actual narrations rather than just story-telling lyrics. I can't understand about 87% of the narrations between some of the songs., but it sounds like he's using all sorts of English lingo that I'm just not in on, but I love it. The narrator is so goofy and I can't help but get a big smile on my face whenever he talks. I want him to tell me stories all day long.

Overall, the narrations and the straight up rockin' songs were my favorite parts about this album. I don't think it's an album I will come back to anytime soon, but it was a fun listen.